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Friday, November 09, 2007

Off The Radar Candidate - Chris Hatcher

Everyone seems to be busy talking up Turner Gill, Bo Pelini and Navy's Paul Johnson as Nebraska's next head coach. None of those sound like "homerun" hires to me, and I've always been comfortable thinking outside the box, so let me introduce to you another name.

Chris Hatcher - Head Coach, Georgia Southern.

I first became familiar with Hatcher while he was the head coach at Valdosta State. I was at Florida State at the time, and one of the local-ish channels covered Valdosta State sports and even televised a number of their football games. Through this exposure, I filed Hatcher's name in my memory bank for future reference.

Hatcher played quarterback at Valdosta State where he was a two-time All-American(1993 and 1994) and threw for 11,363 yards and 121 touchdowns during his stellar career. Hatcher also won the Harlon Hill Trophy by the second-largest voting margin in the then 19-year history of the award. He was also voted to the GSC Football team of the 1990s.

Hatcher began his coaching career as a student assistant coach in 1995 at Valdosta State. The following year he became the quarterbacks/tight ends coach at the University of Central Florida where he worked with Daunte Culpepper. Hatcher then spent three years working with the quarterbacks at the University of Kentucky where he worked under former VSU head coach Hal Mumme. During his time with the Wildcats he coached the No. 1 NFL draft pick, All-America quarterback Tim Couch. While at UK, Hatcher and the Wildcats played in the 1999 Outback Bowl, the program’s first New Year Day’s Bowl in 47 years then followed that the following year with a berth in the ’99 Music City Bowl. It marked the first time the Wildcats had consecutive bowl appearances in 15 years.

In 2000, Hatcher took over as the head coach at his alma mater Valdosta State. That year he took a team that had been 4-7 the previous year and turned it around to a 10-2 record (8-1 in GSC action) and a berth in the Division II playoffs. His 2001 and 2002 teams posted back-to-back undefeated records during the regular season, and ran off a Gulf South Conference record 35 straight victories during the regular season.

In 2004, the Blazers lost their season-opener before rattling off 14 consecutive victories, capped by a 36-31 victory over Pittsburg State in the Division II national title game. Hatcher was named ‘National Coach of the Year’ by the American Football Coaches Association and was the offensive coordinator for the East squad at the Hula Bowl. Despite an 8-2 record in 2006, the 10th-ranked Blazers did not receive an invitation to the playoffs, marking the first time that occurred in the Hatcher era.

Last year’s Valdosta State team finished sixth nationally in passing offense (283 yards per game), 12th in scoring offense (34.9 ppg) and 19th in total offense (389.9 yards). However, Hatcher’s teams have been successful in all three facets. The 2006 defense ranked 27th nationally in scoring defense (15.7 points allowed) while the special teams ranked third in punt returns (17.3 yards) and blocked seven kicks.

Overall during his seven years at Valdosta, Hatcher:
posted an .864 winning percentage
registered a 68-7 mark in the regular season
was 56-6 in Gulf South Conference play
had 60 All-GSC selections
coached 16 All-America selections.

In January of 2007, Hatcher was hired to take over at Georgia Southern.
“There were a lot of qualified candidates, but Chris Hatcher was someone I felt embodied all we were looking for,” said [Director of Athletics Sam] Baker. “Chris has a proven track record as a head coach - capturing the national championship in 2004 and recording an .864 winning percentage during his seven-year tenure at Valdosta State. I looked for a coach who knows how to win and I believe Coach Hatcher can do that at the Division I level. I also wanted to hire a coach with strong recruiting ties in Georgia and Florida. Coach Hatcher knows the area well… Our Athletic Department’s charge was to go out and hire a head coach that will improve on the progress we made off the field, and have that translate to on-the-field success. I think we have that coach in Chris Hatcher.”
Georgia Southern is currently 7-2 and both of their losses have come in OT. That brings Hatcher's career mark as a head coach to 83-14 (.856). His 2007 squad averages 260 yards rushing and 120 yards passing, with a run/pass split of 75%/25%. These numbers are surprising given that Hatcher is known for his "Hatch Attack" passing-oriented offense. His offensive system, complete with cheesy moniker has helped draw comparisons to a young Steve Spurrier.

I doubt Hatcher is truly Nebraska's guy, but he is certainly someone to keep an eye on. I'm usually a few years ahead of the curve when it comes to young coaches finding sucess (see also, Turgeon, Mark), but my guess is in three to four years Hatcher is up for a BCS job somewhere.